By Lloyd Dolha
Chief Donny Morris of the Kitchennubmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation met with De Beers Canada president Jim Gowan for talks on possible exploration in their traditional territories on August 24, 2009, at the diamond giant’s downton Toronto offoce.
Gowans said his conversation with Chief Morris clearly showed that “the community is receptive to exploration and development that is undertaken responsibly following meaningful dialogue with the community.”
Both parties greed the discussion was constructive and useful, agreeing to that the dialogue should continue.
De Beers and KI have agreed to further discussions to consider “mutually beneficial opportunities.”
Be Beers owns the Victor Diamond mine in northern Ontario and has already signed Impact/Benefit Agreements with the Attawapiskat First Nation, the Moose Creek First Nation and has developed a working relations agreement with the Taykwas Tagamou First Nation of the region.
But while KI may be open to exploring new opportunities with the diamond conglomerate, at least one of their existing partners isn”t happy with the deal they already got.
The week prior, members of the Attawapiskat First Nation were in the city to confront De Beers, saying the company is prospering while their people still live in dire poverty.
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Hall said her community still faces a host of social ills despite their agreement with De Beers.
Hall said her community still struggles with a lack of physical infrastructure, toxic contamination of homes and schools, overcrowding and a failing sewage system.
The IBA signed between Attawapiskat and De Beers Canada in 2005, outlines financial compensation, training and job opportunities and a promise for additional building supplies, if available, to the community.
“If it wasn’t for us, no diamonds would be benefiting De Beers of Canada,” said Greg Shisheesh, spokesperson for the First Nation. “But the wealth is not reaching Attawapiskat and that’s why we’re here.”
Shisheesh organized a rally outside De Beers downtown office and later met with president Jim Gowans.
“You state we havemoney, we have joint ventures we have trust funds, we have training. All those things … they are not reaching the community,” Shisheesh said he told Gowans.
Spokesperson for De Beers, Tom Ormsby said the company has met all the benefits outlined in the agreement.
He said 110 Attawapiskat members work at the mine of less than 500 employees and the First Nation has been compensated for De Beers presence in the area.
Infrastrucure, including housing, the school and sewage system is not the company’s problem, he said.
The Victor mine began operating early last year and is located about 100 kilometyres west of the community.
Less than a week later, in a related development Chief Morris and other KI leaders threatened to re-ignite a longstanding dispute with the platinum mining company Platinex,if they return to their traditional territory to resume exploration.
In late August, James Trusler, president and CEO of Planinex sent a letter to Chief Morris advising him that the company will be going back to the mining site at Nemeigusabins Lake near the community.
Vhief Morris responded by sending a letter to Premier Dalton Mc Guinty prssing him for a meeting to discuss the Platinex situation.
“The province has not called one meeting on this controversy since last year,” said Morris. “This is a bad sign.”
In September 2007, six leaders from the KI First Nation were arrested for not allowing the company’s staff to pass through the community’s airport. They were sent to jail in March 2008 for two months becoming nationally known as the KI-6.
Morris said he and his people will be out at the lake mining site to “engage in peaceful demonstration.”
KI leaders said they intend to set up a blockade if Platinex attempts to drill at the site.
Compant spokes person Steve Skyvington said that president Trusler and a geologist will arrive in the area on August 25th to survey the land at the site.
The next day, members of the KI kept the floatplane carrying Platinex employees from landing on the lake with a small flotilla of canoes and a boat. KI members watched as the plane circled, then left.
“I think the community is happy because regardless of what other issues come into play, we accomplished what we wanted to do,”said councillor Sam McKay.
Attended by members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the First Nations fully expected more arrests to be made.
Throughout the discussions to modernize the Ontario mining act announced earlier this year, the First Nation had adamantly asserted a moratorium on mining development in their territory. KI has consistently maintained that it was not adequately consulted over the mining development as required by Supreme Court of Canada rulings.
In a follow-up release by Platinex, the company said it is the responsibility of the province to to uphold their license to drill at the site.
Trulser said his company has “stayed on the sidelines” for over a year and a half waiting for consultations with the province to reach consensus.
“Clearly, Premier McGuinty and his officials either don’t care about this issue or simply decided to hide their heads in the sand, hoping Platinex and KI would go away. This is not the kind of leadership one would expect from the premier of Ontario.”
Both KI and Platinex blame the provincial government for the impasse and Chief Morris said he’s deeply disappointed that the McGuinty government has yet to intervene.
AFN national chief Shawn Atleo urged the province of Ontario to take immediate action to resolve the ongoing dispute.
“A number of court cases have already determined that there is a duty to consult First Nations prior to development on their traditional territory. The Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation want to complete a land use study before they consider whether or not mining should take place.”
The national chief urged Ontario to consult the KI First Nation on the land use plan and suggested the province could cancel mining permits until that plan is complete.
KI councillor Sam Mckay expressed disappointment that Ontario has filed a notice of motion in the courts rather than negotiate with the community.
“We have no funding to fight procedural cases that do not address our aboriginal and treaty rights,” said McKay. “This is a matter that would best be resolved through negotiation rather than litigation.”